Many years ago I found a book called Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz. He wrote about how he healed his body and got healthy after a chronic illness by eating fermented foods. He didn’t just ferment cabbage, but just about every food he could. He fermented vegetables, meat, fruits, grains, and I am not sure what else. This book had an impact on me. I was inspired to start fermenting and recommending fermented foods to my patients. I already had a garden at this point, and lots of extra vegetables. One year I weighed my produce from my garden and had over 750 pounds. So I took some of those extra vegetables and fruits, got out Sandor’s recipes and started fermenting.
Around this time there were more and more fermented foods finding their way into the health food stores. And kombucha had become popular. When kombucha first came onto the shelves in the health food store, I remembered back to my first year in medical school, when I had a kombucha mama living on top of my refrigerator, making me the vinegary drink. Kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, sourdough bread, yogurt, kefir. What do these foods have in common? They are all fermented.
Why do we want to eat fermented foods. Well according to Sandor Katz, these fermented foods help us stay healthy. And it is not just Sandor Katz who supports eating fermented foods. Since the Human Microbiome Project (HMP), there is now evidence that eating these foods have a beneficial effect on our bodies. The HMP was a study done by the National Institutes of Health to understand the association between the human microbiome in health and disease.
The microbiome is a combination of bacteria, viruses, protozoa and fungi that live in our body. Different areas of our body have different types of organisms that live in a balance. The microbiome help us digest our food, protect against infection, help with detoxification, and produce vitamins. There are common bacterial strains that have been found in different areas of the body. Some of these bacteria can lead to infection in certain areas of the body, but are “normal” parts of the microbiome in other areas. For health, it is important to have a healthy microbial balance in all areas of the body. Research shows that a healthy microbiome can help with fertility, prevent infection and may even prevent cancer.
There are things that we put in our body that help us to create a healthy microbiome and things that negatively effect our microbiome. The current information shows that the gastrointestinal microbiome can be altered by diet, probiotic and prebiotic intake, prescription medication, including antibiotics, cortisosteroids and H-2 blockers. These may effect the microbiome of other areas of the body as well.
There are two ways to get probiotics and prebiotics into your body, food and supplements. Foods high in probiotics include saurkraut, pickled vegetables, kombucha, tempeh, sourdough bread, miso, yogurt and kefir. I suggest everyone make their own fermented vegetables and sourdough bread if possible.
Prebiotics are plant fibers that stimulate the good bacteria in the gut. Prebiotics are not digested by your body, so they pass through the digestive system to become food for the probiotics. Without prebiotics the microbiome will not have what it needs to nourish and cultivate a healthy balance. All bacteria, good and bad, feed on different things. What you feed your microbiome has a big impact on how healthy it is. Prebiotics are found in chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke, flax seeds, oats, garlic, onions, apples, and many other foods.
You are not alone on your journey to health. There are thousands of bacteria living in your body who can support you in getting healthy. But if you don’t feed them, you may have some that work against you. The best way to feed your microbiome is by eating a wide variety of Whole Foods, including various fruits, vegetables, grains, seeds and nuts containing both probiotics and probiotics. With a varied diet, you will be able to diversify the healthy bacteria, and diversity in the gut microbiome is associated with overall health.